Closely connected with what we have already observed concerning the new method of theology which Dr. Henry Stob has proposed and defended in connection with the Dekker Case, and which he obviously considered to be one of the most important matters connected with the Dekker Case, is our next point of criticism, namely: this new method is rationalistic.
This criticism may seem rather amazing, inasmuch as it is exactly Dr. Stob’s claim that the old theological method is rationalistic. This is what he said in the article which has led to this series of articles (cf. Reformed Journal, May-June, 1967, p. 5): “. . .all of US have in the past been victimized by what increasingly appears to be an abstract andrationalistic method of doing theology. . .” (italics mine)
But I am claiming that the method proposed by Dr. Stob, and, in fact, used by him, is itself rationalistic, and that Dr. Stob’s assertion that the old theological method is rationalistic is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
A few introductory remarks are not out of place in this connection.
In the first place, let me call attention to the fact that it is not at all unusual in the course of doctrinal conflict that the pot calls the kettle black. On the contrary, it has been a favorite device of heretics to accuse those who are orthodox of the very wrongs of which they themselves are guilty. A study of the history of dogma reveals this abundantly. This is true in more than one respect, for example, of the Arminian controversy. Arminianism loved, and still loves, to charge that the Reformed doctrine is deep and involved, while the Arminian gospel is supposed to be simple and easy to understand. Is this true? No, it is, on the contrary, an instance of the pot calling the kettle black. A casual study of the Arminian doctrine of conditional election reveals that there could hardly be any more complex presentation of this doctrine. The Arminians taught “that there are various kinds of election of God unto eternal life: the one general and indefinite, the other particular and definite; and that the latter in turn is either incomplete, revocable, non-decisive and conditional, or complete, irrevocable, decisive and absolute. Likewise: that there is one election unto faith, and another unto salvation, so that election can be unto justifying faith, without being a decisive election unto salvation.” (Canons I, B, 2). The Reformed, on the other hand, maintained (Canons I, A, 8): “There are not various decrees of election, but one and the same decree respecting all those, who shall be saved, both under the Old and New Testament: since the scripture declares the good pleasure, purpose and counsel of the divine will to be one, according to which he hath chosen us from eternity, both to grace and glory, to salvation and the way of salvation, which he hath ordained that we should walk therein.” The latter doctrine is so simple that a child can understand-it; the former is complex and involved. But Arminians love to boast of a “simple gospel” and to castigate the Reformed faith as being “deep.” Examples of this kind can be multiplied. And they are all examples of the pot calling the kettle black, that is, of heresy charging orthodoxy with exactly those sins of which heresy is guilty.
A classic example of this from our own history is this same charge of rationalism. Anyone acquainted at all intimately with the history of the polemics concerning the Three Points will recall that often we of the Protestant Reformed Churches have been charged with rationalism. In truth, however, the entire view that is embodied in the Three Points of Common Grace is the product of rationalism, while the Reformed view which we have always maintained is the product of exegesis.
In the second place, when I speak in this connection of the old theological method as not being rationalistic, as Stob charges, then I do not mean specifically the method followed in the Christian Reformed Church during the past forty or fifty years: for I do not believe that Christian Reformed theology has been free from rationalism. As indicated above, I exactly believe that to the extent that Christian Reformed theology has been common grace theology, it has also been rationalistic. But I mean by the old theology and the old theological method the main line of Reformed theology and its method as these are represented in the Reformed faith as set forth in our Reformed confessions.
In the third place, let me remind the reader that it is just at this point that this entire question of method assumes such great importance. The question of method is of importance with respect to the Dekker Case, it is true. But the larger importance of this question,—and Dr. Stob recognizes this also in his comments on the Dekker Case and the Report of the Doctrinal Committee,—the larger importance of this question lies in the fact that it concerns all of Reformed theology today, not merely the more specific questions of the Dekker Case. What we are concerned about is a trend, a movement, in Reformed theology, and that too, both in this country and in the Netherlands. One hears comments not only that both Prof. Dekker and the Doctrinal Committee were guilty of a certain abstractness and rationalistic approach, but also that the theology embodied in our Canons, for example, is the product of a certain scholasticism and rationalism which is really foreign to the theology and method of the Reformers (especially Calvin) and which arose under the influence more of a man like Beza, Calvin’s successor in Geneva. And especially under the influence of that eminent scholar, Dr. G.C. Berkouwer, of the Free University of Amsterdam, the new trend is toward considering all of theology in terms of a tension between “kerugma” and faith.
Finally, we should consider the meaning of the termrationalism. Rationalism is not to be equated with being reasonable and logical. This mistake is often made. The result is that a theology that is thoroughly logical and which is a harmonious, systematic, unified whole is accused of being rationalistic. And the theologian who insists that a theology must not be self-contradictory,—not even under the guise of an appeal to the “mystery,”—is charged with rationalism.
We must be careful, however, to distinguish between that which is rational and that which isrationalistic, If Scriptural truth were not rational, reasonable, then man as a rational creature would never be able to understand it, much less formulate a dogmatics or systematic theology. There is no antithesis, remember, between faith and reason.
Rationalism, is something different. It is the exaltation of reason above the Word of God. It is the exercise of reason apart from and not subject to the Word of God. It is the theory of knowledge according to which the source and the criterion of man’s knowledge of God, of man, and of all things is man’s own mind, his own reason. It involves a process of reasoning and an arriving at conclusions which are not based upon the Word of God. It exactly is not characterized by a careful; reasonable, logical exegesis of Scripture. The latter is not only legitimate, but mandatory for the Reformed theologian. It is characterized by a process of reasoning and an arriving at theological conclusions apart from, and, therefore, necessarily also contrary to, the Word of God.
With this in mind, let us test Dr. Stob’s method as exemplified in his comments on the issues in the Dekker Case.
First of all, he rules out the question, “Did Christ die for everybody?” On what basis?
A rationalistic basis, Notice that he comes with not a word of Scriptural proof that this question is not a legitimate one and that it cannot be given a Biblical answer. Stob rules out the question as an “insoluble” question by impaling it rationalistically on the horns of a dilemma. Writes he: “If you answer Yes!, how is then that not all men are saved?” This part of his dilemma can be demonstrated indeed to be thoroughly Scriptural. But in the second part of the dilemma Stob demonstrates that he himself is caught in the toils of the very rationalistic method that led to the pronouncement of the First Point of 1924 and that has led to the inability of the Christian Reformed Church to deal conclusively with the Dekker Case. For he writes: “If you answer No!, how is it then that the crucified and risen Christ can be genuinely and unreservedly offered to all?” This is the rationalistic horn of the dilemma, the one which makes Stob’s dilemma-poising itself rationalistic. The First Point itself—which Stob here reconstrues in terms of a genuine and unreserved general offer—was the product not of exegesis, but of a rationalistic theology. And following that same rationalistic theology, Stob runs his rationalistic colleagues (Prof. Dekker and the Doctrinal Committee) stuck.
Secondly, Dr. Stob writes that “to avoid this impasse. . .we must descend from the cold heights of abstract ‘truth’ and ask the biblical question: What is every man who hears the preached Gospel—every such man without exception—called upon to believe?”
This also is rationalism.
Notice, in the first place, that while Dr. Stob speaks of “the biblical question,” again he offers no iota of proof that this is indeed the Biblical question or indeed that it is a Biblical question. If Stob wants to proceed Biblically, and not rationalistically, he ought to do so, especially when he is criticizing the rationalism of others’ methodology.
Now I have no doubt that it is a Biblical question to ask under certain circumstances and in a certain context, “What must everyone who hears the preached Gospel believe?” Moreover, this question can also be given a Biblical (and confessional) answer. This, however, is not the issue. The issue is: What, in the context of the Dekker Case and its related controversy, is the Biblical question that must be asked? Now by what right does Dr. Stob say, in effect, “You are all a bunch of abstract rationalists. You ask the wrong questions, and that is why you cannot come up with the right answers. Here is the question that you ought to ask. This is the Biblical question for this situation: what must every man who hears the preached Gospel believe?” This is merely a matter of Dr. Stob’s say-so,—something for which he offers no Biblical proof, though he claims it is the Biblical question.
But notice, in the second place, that if we really take Dr. Stob’s “biblical question” seriously, we get right back to the question which he says we must not ask and which he claims is an insoluble question. For the answer to Stob’s question is right in the question itself. What must every man who hears the preached Gospel believe? Obviously, he must believe the Gospel that is preached to him. And what is that Gospel? It is the Gospel of Christ crucified! “We preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness, but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” I Cor. 1:23, 24. But then the question becomes: Who is Christ crucified? Is He Christ crucified for all men? Or is He Christ crucified, the power of God and the wisdom of God, only for some, that is, the called, that is, the elect? And then we are back to the original question: Did Christ die for everybody, or not?
In the third place, however, Dr. Stob’s commitment to a rationalistic method becomes thoroughly evident in the answer which he himself proposes to his “biblical question.” And caught in the toils of his own rationalism, he betrays himself as being guilty of begging the question also; and thus he betrays the fallacy of his own rationalistic method. To this I must call attention next time, D.V.